Friday, June 15, 2012

Flag Day: A History

Vintage post card with patriotic theme (web archive)
It is Philadelphia in the year 1777. The 2nd Continental Congress is meeting every day including this, the Saturday of June 14.

The business of the day includes everything from the suspension of a Massachusetts sea captain "of doubtful character," to the provisioning of New York state with 2,000 bushels of salt as they have been severely shorted from the war and the closing of her harbors.

Other business includes new duties for Major General Benedict Arnold and Captain John Paul Jones. Arnold is given command of "all the [new] militia now at Bristol" and along the Hudson River to the east of Philadelphia. Captain Jones is made commander of the warship Ranger.

The flag, Betsy Ross, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin  (web archive)

Within the day's debate, discussion, and decisions is a simple, 31-word sentence that codifies the symbol of this new nation. It is the description of her flag:

Resolved, that the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.

Lincoln's 2nd inaugural address (photo:
"With malice toward none; with charity 
for all..."
Although the national flag is created during the Revolution, it is not until the Civil War had torn this nation apart that the idea of celebrating the flag as a symbol of unity is born. Needless to say, the idea is not immediately popular in the American South.

The first Flag Day parade was ... where?
Many places lay claim to the first Flag Day parade. Its history is a story of pride, of celebration – and of patience!

• In 1861, George Morris of Hartford, CT organizes a Flag Day parade in June. This is the first year of the Civil War. Fort Sumter, its first battle, is as recent as April 12.

(photo: National Flag Day Foundation)
• In 1885, Bernard Cigrand organizes a Flag Day in Wisconsin. In 1894, Cigrand organizes another in Chicago. Reports indicate that over 300.000 children participated in parades throughout the city's parks. Cigrand claimed he gave over 2,000 speeches on creating a national holiday to celebrate the flag. He is the founder of the American Flag Day Association and later became a president of the National Flag Day Society. Needless to say, Cigrand is regarded by many as the father of Flag Day. 

Before Flag Day became a national holiday, however, there were several notable flag celebrations.

 • In 1887, 100 years after that first June 14, Congress orders the flag to be flown from all public buildings throughout the nation ( 

Seminal versions of the flag from our history.
• In 1907, the Elks make it an annual tradition to fly the flag on June 14.

• In 1909, Fairfield, WA has its first Flag Day parade. This and Morris' Hartford, CT parade are the oldest Flag Day parades recorded and though both are long running, neither has been continuous. 

• In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson makes Flag Day an official "day" which is not at all the same thing as being a national holiday. The date coincides with American involvement in World War I. In 1914, however, the President had declared the first Mother's Day as a time to fly the flag.

Flag Day, June, c. 1914 (Library of Congress)
• In 1949, President Harry Truman makes Flag Day an official national holiday. Although Cigrand has passed away, William Kerr, a colleague of Cigrand's and the founder of the National Flag Day Society (the National Flag Day Foundation) is in attendance at the president's invitation.

• In 1950, Appleton, WI hosts its first Flag Day parade, a parade which has been running continuously!

• In 1952, Quincy, MA began its parade which also has been held every year ever since!

But the biggest parade (according to online sources), a parade claiming to draw as many as 50,000 people in a city with a population of about that same number, is the Troy, NY Flag Day parade

These pictures are from 2012 Flag Day parades and one very special one from Troy, NY's 2011 Flag Day parade.

Flag Day parade, Troy, NY (TimesUnion©, 2012)
Flag Day parade, NYC (prleap©, 2012)
Flag Day parade, Palymyra, MO (PalmyraSpectator©, 2012)
Let it fly!
Uncle Sam in Troy, NY, his birthplace (Mikecny's©, 2011)

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